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投资理财

意大利民间潜藏的经济力量

Nin-Hai Tseng 2011年11月16日

恐慌的投资者可能需要再仔细看看——债务缠身的意大利也不全是坏消息。

    上周末,意大利总统任命马里奥•蒙蒂为新一届总理,希望他能带领这个国家走出欧债危机。这位新任领导人取代了意大利历史上任职时间最长的总理西尔维奥•贝卢斯科尼,摆在他面前的是步步逼近的金融崩溃威胁以及一场似乎每周都在不断恶化的危机。如何能让意大利安然渡过难关,他肩负的使命无疑艰巨而严峻。

    上周随着意大利政坛出现动荡以及外界呼吁意大利控制其快速膨胀的2.6万亿美元债务,意大利债券的收益率飙升,达到了曾迫使其他欧元区国家寻求金融救助的水平。这是欧债危机出现的一个令人忧心的变化。意大利债台高筑,经济增长缓慢。它的经济规模让它的问题对全球金融体系构成了相当的威胁。而且作为欧元区第三大经济体,意大利也被认为规模太大而无法救助。

    不用说,投资者完全有理由担心。但他们也有理由相信意大利有能力自己走出金融危机。意大利的经济不像希腊或其他被救助的欧元区国家那样惨淡。意大利的公共财政可能确实一团糟,但私营部门却相对强劲——投资者们可能忽略了这一点。诚然,正如《华尔街日报》(The Wall Street Journal)所指出的那样,意大利私营部门的主体是一些看似缺乏成长性的小企业。不过,意大利人也是出了名的爱存钱。因此,和政府不同,意大利家庭和许多私营企业的债务都相对较低。

    彼得森国际经济研究所(Peterson Institute for International Economics)客座研究员胡安•卡罗斯•马第尼斯•奥利维亚的研究显示,截至2010年底,意大利居民家庭和非金融公司的金融负债占GDP比例为126%,而欧元区为168%,美国为166%,英国更是超过了200%。而且,意大利从根本上讲也远比其他边缘国家富裕——意大利北部是欧洲最富的地区之一。而且,目前对海外投资者的净负债也仅及GDP的24%。马第尼斯•奥利维亚称这一比例虽然高于欧元区13%的均值,但仍大大低于那些焦头烂额的边缘经济体——葡萄牙为107%,希腊为96%,爱尔兰为91%,西班牙也达到了89%。

    意大利新一届政府目前面临的挑战是如何将财富留在国内。虽然现在还没有任何银行挤提的迹象,但更大的经济恐慌可能会吓得意大利人把财富转移到海外。

    “如果意大利人对他们的政府足够有信心,相信政府能阻止金融崩溃,就会有足够的国内财富来帮助政府来做到这一点,” 彼得森研究员雅各布•芬克•科克加德写道。

    上周末,意大利国会通过了欧盟敦促的财政紧缩法案,计划缩减开支,刺激经济增长。法案从出售资产,市政服务私有化,2026年起推迟退休年龄,再到为雇佣年轻人的公司提供税收优惠等无所不包。

    科克加德认为,意大利新一届政府在规划下一步举措时,或许可以考虑吸引一部分民间资金来购买主权债券。但这要看意大利新总理能不能说服民众做出短期财务牺牲——他认为这是有可能的,因为很多意大利中产人士正在迈入老年,将越来越依赖政府提供的医疗保健服务。

    意大利的这些改革能否让它回复正轨仍有待观察。但即使有这样一天,它也不会是欧元区率先摆脱危机、让投资者相信未来更美好的国家。

    目前的情况依然不是很乐观,但看看爱尔兰吧。在银行业危机迫使爱尔兰于去年寻求救助之前,凯尔特之虎的经济基本面相对强劲。自那以来,随着有两个季度爱尔兰的出口增速都好于预期,爱尔兰债券的收益率已下降近半。确实,和爱尔兰类似,意大利经济的未来很大程度上取决于危机将如何蔓延及其对欧元区的影响。上周欧盟警告称欧元区可能陷入“深度而持续的衰退”,类似这样的消息自然不会有帮助。

    眼下需要指出的是,意大利新一届政府要改善局势,手头要做的工作可不少。

    Over the weekend, Italy's president tapped Mario Monti to lead the country out of Europe's sovereign debt crisis. The new leader, who replaces Silvio Berlusconi, one of Italy's longest-serving prime ministers, now faces the arduous task of defending the country from financial collapse and a crisis that seems to get worse every week.

    Last week, following political uncertainty and calls for Italy to control its soaring $2.6 trillion debt, yields on Italian bonds soared to levels that previously sent other euro zone nations scrambling for financial help. This marked a scary new development in Europe's ongoing crisis. Italy is plagued by massive debts and slow growth. Its economic weight makes its problems quite threatening to the world's financial system. And as the euro zone's third-largest economy, it's said to be too big to bail out.

    Needless to say, investors have every reason to fret. But they also have reason to hope that Italy is well-equipped to dig out of its financial hole. Its economy is not nearly as dire as Greece or other bailed-out euro zone nations. Italy's public finances might be a mess, but its private sector is relatively strong -- something investors may be overlooking. Admittedly, as The Wall Street Journal pointed out, its private sector is made up of mostly small mom-and-pop shops that seem unable to grow. However, Italy is known to be a nation of savers. So unlike its government, Italy's households and many private businesses have relatively low debt.

    At the end of 2010, financial debt of households and non-financial firms amounted to 126% of GDP, compared with 168% in the euro area, 166% in the United States, and more than 200% in the United Kingdom, writes Juan Carlos Martinez Oliva, visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Also, Italy is fundamentally a far richer country than any of the other peripheral countries – Northern Italy is among the richest regions in Europe. And net debts owed to investors abroad is equal to only 24% of GDP, which Martinez Oliva notes is higher than the euro area's average of 13% but still well below levels for the troubled peripheral economies of Portugal at 107%, Greece at 96%, Ireland at 91% and Spain at 89%.

    The challenge now for Italy's new government is to preserve the country's wealth. Though there haven't been any signs of bank runs, the risk is that a bigger economic panic could scare Italians into putting their money elsewhere.

    "If Italians trust their government enough to prevent it from financially collapsing, there should be ample domestic wealth to do so," writes Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, research fellow with Peterson.

    Over the weekend, the Italian Parliament approved austerity measures sought by the European Union to cut spending and stimulate growth. They include everything from selling assets and privatizing municipal services to raising the retirement age by 2026 and offering tax breaks to companies that hire young workers.

    As Italy's new government plots its next steps, Kirkegaard says officials could tap parts of its citizens' wealth to buy up sovereign debt. But this will depend largely on whether Italy's new leader can convince them to accept short-term financial sacrifices – a possibility, he notes, given that most well-to-do Italians are getting older and will increasingly turn to government-run health care services.

    It remains to be seen if any of Italy's reforms will steer it down the right financial path, but if it does, it wouldn't be the first bailed out euro zone nation to convince investors that brighter days are ahead.

    It's not quite a rosy picture yet, but take a look at Ireland. The Celtic Tiger had relatively strong economic fundamentals before a banking crisis forced it seek a bailout last year. Since then, yields on Irish bonds have fallen nearly half after two quarters of better-than expected export growth. Indeed, similar to Ireland, much of Italy's economic future depends how the crisis might spread and impact the euro zone. And it doesn't help that the European Union last week warned that the euro zone could fall into a "deep and prolonged recession."

    For now, it's worth noting that Italy's new government has a few things to work with as it tries to make things right.

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